Friday 23 August 2019

Dream dying for Gordon D'Arcy

Record-breaking centre looks to have played last Test as White and Conan stake claim on debut

Gordon D’Arcy’s days with Ireland look almost over.
Gordon D’Arcy’s days with Ireland look almost over.
Jack Conan, however, has plenty of time on his side
David Kelly

David Kelly

After last week's walk in the park, Ireland decided to go for another on Saturday. And so the Irish rugby team took a lunchtime mosey around St Stephen's Green.

Mingling with Saturday shoppers and puzzled tourists, the green-clad giants embarked upon a series of lineout drills at walking pace, deftly avoiding any violence to flower beds, ducks or picnic baskets.

Except Scotland would prove to be rather less than the stroll that was afforded Ireland for much of the time in Cardiff last weekend.

This would be a big day for some of those already dressed for work and prancing around the Green, smiles on their faces.

Upon another emerald sward five minutes up the road, some would end the day still happy; others, rather less so.

It was a big day for Nathan White, an expectant debutant hoping to join Michael Bent in the front-row, thousands of miles from the small town of Hawera on New Zealand's north island where he was raised. There wouldn't be a cow milked there today.


"My old buddy Craig Clarke hopefully got a day off milking!" he smiled of his retired Connacht colleague and fellow Kiwi.

White's appearance in green is upsetting for some; at least Bent has an Irish background; White has none. Another Kiwi, Joe Schmidt, is merely enforcing bad law.

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"It's good to get it out of the way, I suppose," added White, who showed up well in his belated half-hour cameo. "Mum said this morning they managed to find it on the Rugby Channel. Maybe a couple of friends and grandmas watched it."

White's international career is merely 29 minutes old; Gordon D'Arcy would end the afternoon as Ireland's longest-serving international in virtual anonymity.

Another reminder of the ruthless nature of sport which can bequeath so much time and yet thieve it away in an instant.

Unlike sleepy Hawera, who were not exactly festooning their streets with bunting to praise their exile, Jack Conan's debut would have been welcomed by many more.

A son of Dublin who grew up dreaming of playing for Ireland and now here, in Stephen's Green, doing lineout drills with a living legend of Irish sport, Paul O'Connell.

"It was surreal," said the St Gerard's alumnus. "I don't think anyone has ever watched me train before in the middle of the park so that was quite nice.

"We just went out and did a bit of a walk-through before the game, just a few plays and stuff to refresh it in everyone's mind to make sure we were sharp and ready.

"It was great, there were loads of people there down watching. They were walking past, stopped and had a look. It was a nice little atmosphere before the game."

Conan was infectious throughout and will play in the Six Nations, perhaps, but not a World Cup, it seems. A delightful jink and offload hinted at much promise for a 23-year-old who will enjoy many more days like this.

White, too, may not be bound for a World Cup and, although at 33 his position offers an extended shelf-life, his inability to cover both sides - "I can't write with my left hand either, I'm a one-stop shop prop" - means Bent remains ahead of him in the queue, despite the latter's undistinguished offering.

All eyes were on the sparkle of Simon Zebo and Luke Fitzgerald; both men supplied it in spades but dirtied their bibs enough for Schmidt to remind us so afterwards.

The World Cup and this team requires their X-factor; once they absorb their coach's admonishments, they must be there.

Tommy Bowe is desperately scratching for form at the worst possible time; if one high-profile player is flirting with a sensational axe, it is he. That remains an unlikely prospect, though.

Ian Madigan was another topic of debate on the bar stools as rugby chat segued into Sunday hurling. Challenged to steer his team, he adhered to the theme of a fitful evening by doing so with mixed results.

As usual, Schmidt reminded everyone that this was the case, crediting his sublime cross-field kick for old mucker Fitzgerald with the entries in his debit column, namely defence and a crucial late errant dead-ball attempt.

Madigan will travel - after the performance of Isaac Boss, many desperately hope he could come over all Gallic and play scrum-half, too - versatility still defines him.

When Jonathan Sexton is fit, he will be next in line from the bench; and yet, if Sexton is injured, he will not be. Paddy Jackson will.

Ironically, although he was confident Madigan could control a game from the start, one of Schmidt's last tasks as Leinster boss had been to sign Jimmy Gopperth.

We may never know what plans Schmidt may have had then; as it was, Gopperth was preferred more often than not at ten by Matt O'Connor, thereby restricting Madigan's chances to secure himself in the position as Ireland's back-up out-half.

Not that he sees it that way.

"I still had windows last year. I still had five starts at out-half, and add in training there during the Six Nations and autumn break, that could be close to 20 weeks at ten," he said.

"I feel I can manage playing 12 and still being able to do the role at out-half, and the way the game is gone you need your first centre stepping up into that first handling position and they have to be able to read and control the game from 12 as well."


He hopes to get another chance - "I just want to get out on that field, if I'm playing in the centre or at out-half or full-back or scrum-half."

So too White. "You just have to keep turning up and take your chances. Joe tends to give me a text on a Sunday to see if I'm available, so I'm sort of going week to week at the moment."

Last year, Conan had but one cap for his province. The back-row is clogged; he has time on his side. D'Arcy's is almost up.

Indeed, as he hugged his wife and child on the margins of the post-match hubbub, there was a trace of sorrow that such a fine career should end without obvious tribute.

After 15 years and 303 days, surpassing Mike Gibson's mark, a career that began at a World Cup in the last century may well end before this year's tournament.

Indeed, unlike O'Connell, he may not even get a chance to say a proper farewell to his Irish fans in a fortnight which would be sad indeed.

Soon it will be his time to spend his Saturdays walking in the park. If you see him there, be sure to bid your own farewell to one of Ireland's greatest.

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